WCTC's coverage of High School Football Championship Weekend kicks off tonight, when Bridgewater-Raritan meets Westfield for the third straight year in the North Jersey, Setion 2, Group 5 title game at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. The game begins at 8, but our coverage will begin at approximately 8:15 pm, immediately following the Rutgers women's basketball game against North Carolina State at the RAC (5:30 air time, 6:00 tip).
Each of the last two seasons, the Panthers and Blue Devils have met in the sectional final. Each time, they've been undefeated. And each time, Westfield has won. In 2015, Bridgewater-Raritan was the 2-seed, and Westfield the top-seed; the Blue Devils won 10-7 at MetLife Stadium. They would meet there again in 2016, and despite the seeds being flipped, Westfield won again, this time 15-13.
This year, Westfield is the top-seed again. They are riding a 36-game winning streak, the longest active streak in New Jersey. Bridgewater-Raritan is the third-seed, and they knocked off 2nd-seed Piscataway in the semifinals with a 27-6 road win.
Westfield's story may be somewhat surprising considering they lost many key players to graduation. But sophomore quarterback Hank Shapiro has thrown for over 1,300 yards, with 13 TDs against just 4 interceptions. And junior Jake Vall-Llobera has run for 7 TD out of the Wildcat. Their margin of victory has gotten slimmer, however. A year ago, they only won 2 games by single-digits; this year, that number is 5. But defensively, the Blue Devils have been very good, where Vall-Llobera has been disruptive at defensive end in a 4-4 scheme. He's registered 19 tackles-for-loss and has 11 sacks, tops on the team in both departments.
Bridgewater-Raritan also has surprised, to a degree. They lost some outstanding talent to graduation. Top wideout Ricky Tate is now playing at Moravian, QB Nick Attanasio is playing lacrosse at Rutgers, and Justin Davidowicz is a kicker for the Scarlet Knights. Then, in game three, a 30-7 loss to Phillipsburg, starting TB David Usewick went down to a season-ending ACL injury. Enter Anthony Goffe, a 5-9, 220-pound senior who has stepped up big to the tune of 1,386 rushing yards and a 12 touchdowns. But perhaps the best wrinkle for Bridgwater is the involvement of the tight end in the offense: 6-2 Brandon Myers. He's caught 32 passes and has 10 TDs on the season. It's something not every high school team has, but Bridgewater does.
They are big on both sides of the ball, and surprisingly dominated Piscataway there on the line of scrimmage in a semifinal road win at Ciardi Stadium. Surprising not because of how well the Panthers played, but because the Chiefs don't often get dominated on the line. But Bridgewater is big and tall. That helped against the Chiefs and it should help against the Blue Devils.
Mike Pavlichko and Max Scheiner will have the call tonight from MetLife Stadium, with "Friday Night Football USA" host Dom Savino providing sideline reports and postgame reaction.